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Originally published as the entry "Dominicans (O.P.)," pp.440-448, in The Encyclopedia of American Catholic History edited by Michael Glazier and Thomas J. Shelly, The Liturgical Press. This augmented and hyperlink enabled version is presented with permission of the publisher. © 1997 by The Order of St. Benedict, Inc., Collegeville, Minnesota.

A Brief History of the Dominican Order in the U.S. (pdf); printer-friendly

Members of the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers) have been on mission in the United States for more than two centuries. The mission given them by Dominic de Guzman (1170–1221) from the founding of the Order is to proclaim the word of God by preaching, teaching and example, while they are sustained by life in common.

The single mission of the Order of Preachers embraces many ministries, developed as needed to bring the word of God to persons in varying societies and circumstances. St. Dominic had this in mind when he urged the first members to identify with each culture through the use of the languages. For the same purpose he asked the meet all people as mendicants, ready to exchange gifts and necessities with others in the spirit of Jesus and the apostles.

The Order of Preachers is composed of men and women of four branches: friars, who may be priests or brothers; cloistered nuns; sisters; and laity. Dominic de Guzman was called to ministry in the universal Church. His followers have proclaimed the gospel around the world to peoples never known to the founder, including those of the Americas.

Three centuries after the death of St. Dominic in 1221 the first Dominicans landed on the Atlantic coast with Spanish colonists, arriving in 1526 near the current site of Georgetown, South Carolina. Among them was the friar Antonio de Montesinos, whose vehement protests against the conquerors' oppression of the native peoples have been acclaimed as the first voice for liberty raised in the New World. When the intended colony failed, Montesinos returned to his prophetic preaching in the Caribbean. However, other Dominicans followed him into the southern region of the present United States. These included Fray Luis Cancer, who was martyred in Florida, and the men who accompanied De Soto and other explorers into regions along the Gulf Coast. Friars of Mexico, which then extended north beyond the Rio Grande, evangelized the natives of the present Texas, some losing their lives in that endeavor. After them, nearly two centuries intervened before the Preachers came to stay.

The continuing presence of Dominicans in the United States began in 1786. A friar of the Irish province, John O'Connell, was assigned to New York. the nation's temporary capital to serve primarily as chaplain at the Spanish legation. Following O'Connell more than twenty friars, the majority from Ireland, were sent as missionaries to the new nation. Of these the first twelve served with Bishop John Carroll in the vast Diocese of Baltimore, then the only one in the United States.

One of the Preachers on mission with John Carroll was Francis Antoninus Fleming, the bishop's vicar general for the Northern District, which extended from New York to Maine. Fleming. like several of his confreres, met death while caring for victims of yellow fever. Among the other friars were William O'Brien, pastor of New York's first parish. St. Peter's on Barclay Street; Anthony Caffrey, founder of St. Patrick's, the first parish in the rising 'Federal City' of Washington, D.C.; and John Ceslas Fenwick, an American of the English province, who lived and labored with the Jesuits in southern Maryland.

When the single see of Baltimore was divided in 1808 to form five dioceses, one of these. New York. was given as its first bishop the Irish Dominican, Luke Concanen. After his episcopal ordination in Rome his passage to the United States was delayed so long by Napoleon's embargo on ships leaving Italy that death overtook him before he could leave. A second Irish friar, John Connolly, was then appointed bishop of New York (1815–1825).

The initial move toward founding a Dominican province in the United States was made by Edward Dominic Fenwick, O.P, an American descendant of early Maryland colonists. Fenwick entered the Order of Preachers of the English province in 1788, after completing his studies at the Dominican college of Holy Cross in Belgium. While serving for ten years in the English province he dreamed of establishing an American province of the Order in his native Maryland. The dream was realized finally by Fenwick and three English friars, with the support of Dominican superiors in Rome and the encouragement of Bishop John Carroll. However, Carroll requested that the province be founded far from Maryland, out in frontier Kentucky, where the first westward-moving Catholics were begging for priests.

Dominican Province of St. Joseph was established in 1806 at St. Rose. Kentucky, near Bardstown. In 1811 the Dominicans welcomed to the ecclesiastical outpost of Kentucky the first bishop on the western frontier, Benedict Joseph Flaget. In his Bardstown diocese the friars served as itinerant preachers, instructors in their college of St. Thomas Aquinas, and pastors of the earliest parishes formed in the wilderness. The people responded favorably to their pastoral ministry, finding their practices more acceptable than the rigorous ones of the veteran French missionary Stephen Theodore Badin and his Belgian coworker Charles Nerinckx.

As itinerant missionaries the friars traveled widely among the settlers in Kentucky; then Edward Fenwick ventured north across the Ohio River into the forests of Ohio. There in 1818 he and his Dominican nephew, Nicholas Dominic Young. built the first Catholic church in the state, a log cabin at Somerset in Perry County dedicated to St. Joseph. Three years later Fenwick was named the first bishop of Cincinnati (1821–32) and given the spiritual care of Catholics in the whole region of present-day Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. In the beginning the only priests in the diocese were his Dominican brothers, who with the zealous people formed the earliest parishes in Ohio and built the first Catholic churches.

While planning the foundation of the friars in the United States Edward Fenwick hoped to have American sisters to share in their mission. This hope was realized in 1822 when nine young women, answering the call of the provincial, Samuel Thomas Wilson, became the first American Dominican Sisters, known today as the Congregation of St. Catharine of Siena. [DSoP]

The founding members began their common life in a crowded log cabin near Cartwright Creek and began their teaching in a school opened in a still house. Angela Sansbury, of one of the pioneer families from Maryland, was the first to make her religious profession and the first to be elected by her community as prioress. She merits the title of foundress of Dominican Sisters in the United States.

At the call of Bishop Fenwick, four of the Kentucky sisters were sent to Ohio in 1830 to establish the community and academy of St. Mary's in the settlement at Somerset. There, as in Kentucky, they shared in the Dominican mission as teachers. As Fenwick noted, they undertook "the role of missionary among us." Following a disastrous fire the community and academy moved in 1868 to Columbus, Ohio, where they assumed the title, " St. Mary of the Springs." [DSoP]

Dominican preachers were called south to Tennessee, which had few Catholics and no priest, with the appointment in 1837 of the first Catholic bishop of Nashville. He was Richard Pius Miles, OP, a native of Kentucky, who welcomed to the diocese several friars from Kentucky and Ohio with whom he had served as missionary and provincial. Among them were Joseph Alemany. who would later become the first archbishop of San Francisco: and Thomas Langdon Grace, who was subsequently named the bishop of St. Paul. In 1846 Dominican sisters were sent from both Kentucky and Ohio to Memphis, to form a new community and academy of St. Agnes in collaboration with the friars of St. Peter's parish. Less than three decades later, Memphis sisters and friars alike gave their lives in caring for victims of the yellow fever epidemic.

In 1860 the Ohio sisters of St. Mary's sent four members to the cathedral city of Nashville, Tennessee, at the request of the second bishop of Nashville, James Whelan, OP. These sisters founded the Congregation and Academy of St. Cecilia. During the Civil War they found themselves on the Tennessee battlefront. Later sisters went from Nashville to Memphis as volunteers to nurse the victims of the yellow fever, for whom some gave their lives.

The ministry of the Order of Preachers to Native Americans, fur traders, and pioneer Americans of Michigan and Wisconsin was initiated by their bishop, Edward Fenwick, in the territory once evangelized by the French Jesuits. In 1830 he assigned the newly ordained Samuel Mazzuchelli to the missions of the old Northwest, then in the territory of Michigan. Subsequently the Italian-American missionary became the first Dominican to serve the Church in the new dioceses of St. Louis, Detroit, Dubuque, Milwaukee, and Chicago. In 1844 he initiated at Sinsinawa Mound, Wisconsin, the third collaborative foundation of Dominican friars and sisters: a province of the friars which was short-lived, and in 1847 the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. The cause of Samuel Mazzuchelli, the first American Dominican missionary proposed for canonization, was advanced in 1993 when he was named Venerable by the Holy See.

The fourth collaborative mission of Dominican men and women in the United States was initiated in California in 1850 by Dominican friars and sisters who accompanied Joseph Alemany to his bishopric in Monterey. There Alemany and Sadoc Vilarrasa, a fellow Spanish missionary who had been serving with him in Ohio, founded the friars' Province of the Holy Name. At the same time Alemany's hope for sisters was fulfilled by Mary Goemaere, a Dominican from Paris, with Aloysia O'Neill and Frances Stafford from St. Mary's, Somerset. These founded the community that became the Congregation of Holy Name of San Rafael.

The foundations laid by Edward Fenwick included not only those of friars and sisters, but also of members of the Dominican Laity, then known as the Third Order. In 1807, while the Kentucky venture was only started, Fenwick wrote to Luke Concanen in Rome to ask about receiving men and women as lay Dominicans. He said he thought that the Third Order, if he understood it well, could be established "with benefit to the pious people and much honour to our Lord."

Little is known about the first lay Dominicans in the United States. Among their sparse records preserved from the early nineteenth century is that of the reception of one Betsy Wells by the Dominican friars at St. Rose in 1826. Another, in 1829, records the reception of two men, George Shock and John Roi, into the Third Order. In 1833 Bishop Flaget of Bardstown praised the "virtuous lay women;' presumably tertiaries, among the Dominicans at St. Rose who nursed the cholera victims there. The lay Dominicans at Somerset, Ohio, included two named Fanny and Theresa Naughton who served St. Joseph Convent all their adult lives. The early records pertained only to individuals. No references to early chapters or meetings of tertiaries have been discovered.

In 1853, after the foundation of the Order in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and California by friars and sisters on mission together, the first Dominican women carne from Europe to serve in the American Church. These were four cloistered nuns from the Monastery of Holy Cross in Regensburg, Bavaria, led by Josepha Witzlhofer. Called to America to provide education for German Catholic immigrants, they settled in Williamsburg, New York, later an area of Brooklyn. They tried valiantly to combine their monastic way of life with the strenuous work of conducting a school. In 1868 the nuns met another urgent need of the people by opening the first hospital conducted by American Dominican sisters. By 1900 the Brooklyn community and the many foundations across the United States which branched ultimately from Holy Cross Monastery in Bavaria had become congregations of active Third Order sisters. Many years later, in 1947, the Brooklyn sisters moved their motherhouse to Amityville, New York.

Another Dominican community formed for the education of German immigrants began in Racine, Wisconsin, in 1862. The foundress was Maria Benedicta Bauer, who, when prioress of Holy Cross Monastery in Bavaria, had sent the four nuns from Regensburg to Brooklyn in 1853. The Racine sisters, like their predecessors in Brooklyn, evolved from a contemplative monastic community to become an active congregation.

Only six years after the coming of the nuns from Bavaria to the Brooklyn convent of Holy Cross, German Catholics in lower Manhattan requested sisters from Brooklyn to open a monastery and school at St. Nicholas parish. The reply was favorable. The sisters soon welcomed young women to their novitiate on Second Street, and in 1869 became an autonomous monastery, with Mary Augustine Neuhierl as prioress. By 1883 this community had developed into a congregation with branch houses and moved their mother house up the Hudson to Newburgh, New York.

Dominican nuns from Ireland also came to help immigrants to the United States at mid-century. In response to a call from a pastor in New Orleans, Mary John Flanagan and five other nuns from Dublin opened a parish school in that city of French and Spanish culture in 1860. Coming from a contemplative monastery, as did the nuns from Germany, they struggled in this new environment with the ambiguities of a cloistered life in active ministry until they became the Congregation of St. Mary's of New Orleans. [DSoP].

In 1873 seven sisters from the original Dominican community in Kentucky traveled to mid-Illinois to open a school and convent at Jacksonville. A year later, two of these sisters were requested to participate with President Ulysses Grant in an unusual event: the unveiling of a statue of Abraham Lincoln at his tomb in Springfield, the state capital. Grant asked them to represent all the religious women who had served during the Civil War in prisons and hospitals and on the battlefields: women whom President Lincoln had warmly praised, as Grant recalled. The sisters fulfilled the President's request and returned to their less public ministry in Jacksonville. Later their motherhouse was moved to Springfield.

As immigration increased and the move from farm to city accelerated, new needs of the people challenged Dominicans to undertake ministries new and old. The urban ministry of the friars was expanded with their move to New York City in 1867, which was followed by the transfer of the eastern provincial center from St. Rose, Kentucky, to St. Vincent Ferrer Parish, New York City. The western province of Holy Name moved in turn to San Francisco and opened parishes as far north as Portland, Oregon. Added to the founding of new parishes was another form of urban ministry: the weeklong missions which the friars undertook as preaching teams called "mission bands" in far-flung towns and cities.

Attention to evolving human needs led to new foundations and ministries among the Dominican sisters. Catherine Antoninus Thorpe was led by such a need in 1876 to found a new community in New York, with the guidance of the Dominican provincial John Rochford. These Dominican sisters who later moved to Sparkill, New York , were established to provide for indigent women and dependent children. The numbers of orphans had multiplied rapidly after the Civil War, owing not only to battle fatalities and recurring epidemics, but also to the many deaths of immigrants enroute to the United States. Women who left family farms for work in city factories were equally in need of assistance.

Lucy Eaton Smith, a convert, was inspired by the example of Catherine Antoninus Thorpe and also challenged by the needs of women. In 1880 she founded in Albany, New York, a Dominican congregation which would offer women the opportunity for spiritual retreats related to the contemplative aspects of the sisters' lives; and also would provide residences for working women in the cities. Under the patronage of St. Catherine de Ricci the sisters of the community she established continue this dual ministry, centered at the motherhouse now located at Elkins Park, Pennsylvania.

Four congregations of American Dominican sisters, all dedicated primarily to education, formed new branches in the 1880s. Sisters from Newburgh. New York, established a community in Jersey City in 1881. These became a congregation which moved their motherhouse later to Caldwell, New Jersey. From Columbus, Ohio, a group of sisters led by Mary Agnes Magevny traveled to distant Galveston, Texas, in 1882 to make a foundation which later moved to Houston. The record for long-distance travel to new beginnings was made when sisters from Brooklyn, urged by Joseph Alemany, the Dominican archbishop of San Francisco, responded to the educational needs of German immigrants in California. By 1888 these sisters became the Dominican congregation of Mission San Jose, under the leadership of Maria Pia Backes. In the same year, sisters from the Jersey City community, led by Thomasina Buhlmeier, made a new foundation on the West Coast at Tacoma, Washington.

During the final decade of the nineteenth century two more American branches of the fast-growing "tree" whose seedling was sent from Bavaria became new congregations. From Newburgh came the sisters who formed the congregation of Blauvelt, New York, in 1891. Their ministry for orphans had begun years earlier when Mary Ann Sammon, foundress of the new branch, brought homeless children into the Manhattan cloister to be cared for by the nuns. The second new branch, the Grand Rapids Sisters, originated as a Michigan province of the Newburgh congregation, from which the members were separated in 1894 by the arbitrary action of the bishop of Grand Rapids. They became an independent congregation under the leadership of Aquinata Fiegler.

The initial ministry of Dominican sisters among Franco-Americans began with a call from Canadian friars at work in New England. Mary Bertrand Sheridan and several Dominican sisters from Washington, D.C., responded to that call in 1892 by founding a community and school in Fall River, Massachusetts.

In 1896 a Dominican congregation unique in its single ministry was founded by Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, the daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne. The members' compassionate ministry for the poor is found in their title: the The Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer. Their motherhouse is at Hawthorne, New York.

The earliest foundation of women in the Order of Preachers was that of the contemplative nuns established by St. Dominic as a part of the Preaching of Jesus Christ at Prouille, France. Theirs was the fourth branch of the Order to be established permanently in the United States. The nuns who had come at mid-century from monasteries in Germany and Ireland were cloistered contemplatives. Their active apostolate had compelled them to live in increasing dependence upon dispensations from their constitutions until each foundation, encouraged by successive masters of the order, made the decision to become an active congregation of Dominican sisters.

The first permanent American foundation of cloistered nuns was made in 1880. Four nuns from Ouillins in France, a monastery whose origins went back to Prouille, came to Newark, New Jersey, to found the Monastery of St. Dominic, dedicated to perpetual adoration. The founding prioress, Mary of Jesus, was an American. By 1889 members of the Newark foundation opened a second monastery in the Bronx, New York; and in 1906 one in Detroit, now at Farmington Hills.

New Jersey was the site in 1891 of a second monastic foundation from Europe. Four nuns of the Perpetual Rosary, founded in Belgium. opened a monastery in Union City. By 1910 they had established five more monasteries in as many states: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1897; Catonsville, Maryland, in 1899; Camden, New Jersey, in 1900; Buffalo, New York, in 1905; and in 1909, La Crosse, Wisconsin. The La Crosse nuns moved in 1984 to Washington. D. C., [then to Linden, Virginia].

Records of Dominican laity in the early nineteenth century were not only sparse but limited to the reception or profession of individuals. From the second half of the century there exist records of chapters of lay Dominicans who met regularly, studied and prayed together, and introduced others to the spirituality and apostolic charity of the Order of Preachers. Chapters were encouraged by the Dominican friars in their parishes, as at San Francisco in 1863, by sisters in schools and by nuns in their monasteries. Chapter news was given in the friars' Rosary Magazine from its inception in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Large, active chapters of men and women were found during that period in parishes in San Francisco, St. Paul, Louisville, New York City, Boston, and Lewiston, Maine. The articles showed the zeal of the tertiaries in those chapters.

The first founding of a Dominican community of sisters in the twentieth century took place in Kansas, far from the concentration of Dominicans on the East and West Coasts. It was from Holy Cross in Brooklyn, however, that the former prioress. Antonina Fischer, set out to found eventually in 1902 the congregation of The Dominican Sisters of Great Bend. [DSoP]

In 1910 Mary Walsh obtained official recognition by the Church for a community of women she had gathered earlier in New York to offer health care to the poor in their homes. These Dominican Sisters of the Sick Poor later moved their central house to Ossining on the Hudson.

The California friars who began their foundation in 1850 at Monterey had been obliged for lack of frontier resources and personnel to set aside their status as a full province in 1864 and assume that of a congregation. But by 1912 the Province of the Holy Name was fully restored, with their central house in San Francisco and parishes in cities located chiefly along the Pacific Coast.

Monasteries of nuns of the Order multiplied in the decade between 1915 and 1925. With eight new foundations established at great distances from one another. Nuns from Newark opened a monastery in Cincinnati in 1915 and another in Los Angeles in 1924. From Farmington Hills, Michigan, a new community was formed in Albany, New York, in 1915; and in New Jersey a group from Union City opened a house in Summit in 1919. From the Bronx monastery a foundation was made in Menlo Park, California, in 1921. Nuns from Catonsville. Maryland, established a monastery in West Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1922 and another in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1925. In the same year, the monastery at Camden opened a daughterhouse at Syracuse, New York.

Two widely separated provinces of the Newburgh congregation became autonomous congregations in 1923. The first province founded at Aberdeen, Washington, in 1890, now became the Dominican congregation of Everett, later Edmonds, Washington. The second group had become a province of the Newburgh congregation in 1892, centered at Adrian, Michigan. In 1923 that province became autonomous and their provincial, Camilla Madden, became the first prioress of the new Adrian Dominican Sisters.

At the end of the 1920s individual sisters of the Caldwell congregation, by arrangement between the bishops of Cleveland and Newark, were given the choice of remaining in the New Jersey congregation or joining a new branch of the order at Akron, Ohio. [DSoP] This second Ohio Dominican congregation, founded a century after the pioneer community at Somerset, was established in 1929.

On the eve of World War II the friars of St. Joseph province had grown in membership and outreach, from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains and from the Canadian border to the Gulf of Mexico. The Master of the Order, Martin Gillet, proposed the formation of a new province of friars to serve the central United States. The province of St. Albert the Great was established in 1939, with headquarters in Chicago.

Friars of the three American provinces served as chaplains for the armed forces in World War II. During and after the war they ministered to increasing numbers of Catholics who moved to the cities and required new or expanded parishes.

American friars then took part, thanks especially to the initiative of Walter Farrell, in promoting the study of theology among the laity. For women and men throughout the country they initiated Thomist Associations, regional study groups, the publication of books and periodicals, and theology courses in numerous colleges and universities.

In the decade of the 1940s four monasteries of nuns were formed from existing foundations: Elmira, New York, from Buffalo; Lufkin, Texas, from Farmington Hills, Michigan; and North Guilford, Connecticut, from Summit, New Jersey. The fourth foundation, from Catonsville, Maryland, brought an interracial, intercultural monastery to Marbury, Alabama.

After 1950 two communities of Dominican sisters became independent of their European motherhouses. One whose members came originally from Czechoslovakia to Pennsylvania in 1923 became the congregation of St. Rose of Lima, Oxford, Michigan [DSoP], in 1950, under the leadership of Mary Joseph Gazda. The second group had come from an Irish Dominican community in Lisbon. Portugal, to serve in the state of Oregon. They formed in 1952 the autonomous Dominican Congregation of Catharine of Siena, Kenosha, Wisconsin, with Mary Vincent Mullins as their major superior.

In the same decade two new communities were established for catechetical ministry among adults and children. The Marian Dominican Catechists of Boyce, Louisiana, were founded in 1954 by Bishop Charles Greco to serve in the diocese of Alexandria. Louisiana. Another Louisiana foundation, the Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic [DSoP], had been established for catechetics and related ministries in 1927 by Catherine Bostick and Margaret Grouchy. Thirty years later they were affiliated to the Order of Preachers.

In 1979 the friars of the eastern and central provinces initiated the collaborative founding of a new province, using a process unique in the history of the Order. They combined personnel and resources to establish together the new Southern Province of St. Martin de Porres, centered at New Orleans. The friars of this province launched their mission in the South with a verbal motif given them by the Master of the Order: "A New Birth in Hope."

Dominican sisters who had come from Speyer, Germany, in 1925 to serve in the northwestern states became the autonomous American congregation of Spokane, Washington, in 1986.

Members of the Dominican laity in the United States have developed their contemplative-apostolic role in the Order of Preachers within each province of the friars. Chapters now exist in thirty-three states, and their members collaborate with Canadians in the CANAM organization. In 1985 they welcomed to Montreal lay Dominicans from all continents to celebrate the seven hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Third Order in 1285. Looking toward the future they emphasized the need to recognize and make known the elements of Dominican spirituality which many lay Catholics seek to live. The new Rule of 1987 supports and encourages these elements.

A broad vision of the laity was proposed at the first International Conference of the Dominican Family in Bologna in 1983. Led by the Master of the Order, Vincent de Couesnongle, the delegates from every continent, representing all four branches of the Order, broadened the concept of "lay Dominican" to include all men and women who "look to Dominic and the Order for inspiration. In the United States these include women and men invited by many congregations of Dominican Sisters to be their associates.

The first Dominican school in the United States was opened by the friars in a Kentucky farmhouse in 1806. It became the College of St. Thomas Aquinas with both men and boys in attendance, as was customary in the earliest institutions; and one of the boys was Jefferson Davis, who remembered with pleasure the year he spent with the friars. The college was closed by 1830, as were other schools and colleges established later by the friars at Somerset, Ohio, and Sinsinawa, Wisconsin. In the meanwhile the Dominican sisters in 1822 had opened St. Mary Magdalen's school, which in turn, over a century later, became a college that survived. The two Kentucky institutions initiated the educational ministry offered subsequently by American Dominicans for almost two centuries.

The early sisters founded academies as well as primary schools to encourage the continuing education of pioneers and immigrants, especially of women. Some taught in the first public schools of the north central states. Before mid-century, and increasingly after the Plenary Council of 1884, they staffed parish schools. These multiplied rapidly as bishops and pastors requested, pleaded or demanded that sisters be sent to teach in their parishes. In this way Dominican sisters as well as friars committed themselves to the development of the local Church throughout the nation.

Secondary education offered by Dominican sisters, like that of other religious women, usually originated in their own academies for girls, of which many became collegiate institutions. The needs of urban families led to the opening of numerous Dominican high schools, some of them conducted by the friars. In later years Dominicans have administered or taught in secondary schools sponsored by parishes, dioceses, or other religious orders. Many alumni of these high schools, and also of colleges, have entered religious life because of their association with women and men of the Order.

Among the early friars one of the deterrents to full Dominican life was the lack of traditional emphasis on study, that basic element given to the Order by St. Dominic. Advanced study of theology and philosophy was often sacrificed to build up the Church as settlers moved into Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and California. A few friars were sent to Europe to study; and men from Europe were sometimes appointed to the post of Regent of Studies for brief periods. But not until 1905 was the first proper Studium set up in Washington, D.C., adjoining the new and struggling Catholic University of America. In 1936 the Holy Name province opened the College of St. Albert in Oakland, which later became the Dominican School of Theology and Philosophy and joined the Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. By 1941 the province of St. Albert the Great established a house of studies, which became 1964 the Aquinas Institute of Theology at St. Louis, offering graduate degrees to religious and lay men and women. Subsequently, the new Southern province of St. Martin de Porres and that of St. Albert the Great formed one house of studies at Aquinas Institute.

In the early 1900s Dominican sisters attended colleges and universities in increasing numbers at home and abroad, although few Catholic institutions would admit women. The congregations who had personnel qualified for faculty posts in higher education began to establish colleges for women. In 1904 bachelor's degrees were first granted by the Dominican Sisters of St. Clara College at Sinsinawa, which under the name Rosary College [now Dominican University] later moved to River Forest, Illinois. The San Rafael Sisters were the second congregation to open a college for women, the Dominican College of San Rafael, which first conferred degrees in 1917. Well into the century, all Dominican colleges for women became coeducational institutions.

In succeeding years Dominicans founded the institutions listed here which grant bachelor's or higher degrees:

Founding Sponsor
Degrees Granted

Rosary College (now Dominican University)

Sinsinawa Dominicans


Dominican House of Studies

St. Joseph Province


Dominican University of California

San Rafael Dominicans


Providence College

St. Joseph Province


Siena Heights University

Adrian Dominicans


Ohio Dominican University

Columbus Dominicans


Albertus Magnus College

Columbus Dominicans


Dominican School of Theology and Philosophy

Holy Name Province


Aquinas College

Grand Rapids Dominicans


Barry University

Adrian Dominicans


Edgewood College

Sinsinawa Dominicans


Caldwell College

Caldwell Dominicans


Mt. St. Mary College

Newburgh Dominicans [Sisters of Hope]


Dominican College Blauvelt

Blauvelt Dominicans


Molloy College

Amityville Dominicans


St. Thomas Aquinas College

Sparkill Dominicans


Aquinas Institute of Theology

St. Albert Province


Among collegiate institutions which have granted associate degrees are St. Catherine College (and St. Catherine, Kentucky (1931); Aquinas College of Nashville, Tennessee (1961); and Queen of the Holy Rosary College, Fremont, California (1979).

Many friars and sisters have engaged in campus ministry at a variety of institutions, including those sponsored by Catholic and Protestant churches, independent colleges, and universities. Paralleling this ministry are Dominican projects in adult education among the disadvantaged and immigrants, prisoners, and handicapped persons.

American society and the Church have benefited from Dominican scholars in a variety of national and international institutions, whether as professors of theology in various graduate schools, individual instructors, or scholars doing advanced research.

St. Dominic preached human dignity and the worth of the human body to oppose the Cathar belief that whatever was physical and material was evil. Catherine of Siena put Dominic's preaching to work not only in her teaching but in her loving care of the sick. American Dominicans have also put teaching into practice in caring for the health needs of the people. Friars and sisters in Kentucky were commended by their bishop for the care of cholera victims in the 1830s. During the Civil War members of the Order served as chaplains and nurses on the battlefield. In the 1870s sisters and friars gave their lives caring for victims of yellow fever in Tennessee.

The first Dominican hospital was founded in New York by the Brooklyn sisters (later Amityville) in 1869. Home health care for the destitute was introduced in New York by Mary Walsh and the Dominican Sisters of the Sick Poor. Today, Dominican men and women participate in a broad range of burgeoning health services and related areas of pastoral and social ministry. They conduct and staff hospitals, medical centers, and nursing homes; also urban and rural clinics for the poor, in which Dominican sisters are physicians and nursing staff. Hospitals are conducted currently by the following congregations:

Great Bend
  • Central Kansas Medical Center, Great Bend, Kansas
  • St. Catherine Hospital, Garden City, Kansas
  • St. Joseph Memorial Hospital, Larned, Kansas
San Rafael

Significant study, research, and publication have been done in the field of medical ethics by friars of the provinces of St. Albert the Great and St. Martin de Porres.

Only in 1908 did the Church in the United States emerge from its former mission status. Soon afterward American Dominicans began to send members on mission to other countries. The first were the sisters from Mission San Jose, who in 1910 opened a school and then a novitiate in Mexico. In 1912 the Maryknoll Sisters of St. Dominic were founded by Mary Joseph Rogers at Hawthorne, New York, to be the first American Dominican congregation of sisters founded specifically to serve in the foreign missions. They were given official approval of the Church in 1920.

The first American friars to staff a foreign mission were those of St. Joseph province, who in 1924 sent men to Kienning-Fu in south China and later invited the Sisters of St. Mary of the Springs, Ohio, to join them.

The Dominican nuns of Los Angeles opened in 1959 the first monastery of Americans at Karachi in Pakistan, following the earlier initiative of the friars of St. Joseph province.

As members of the Order began to hear the call of peoples outside their own nation, a special summons to the lands of Latin America was sounded by Pope Pius XII in the 1950s. Many sisters and friars responded, leading to their continued ministry, with emphasis on human rights and justice, in Latin America and elsewhere. At the close of the twentieth century Dominican men and women of the United States offer a variety of ministries in the following mission fields:

Dominican Group






St. Albert, Columbus, Maryknoll, Sinsinawa, San Rafael


Rafael, Maryknoll


Columbus, Maryknoll



Dominican Republic


El Salvador

Maryknoll, Sinsinawa


Akron, Houston, Maryknoll, San Rafael


St. Albert, St. Martin de Porres




St. Joseph, N. Guilford, Racine, St. Albert, Maryknoll, Adrian


Holy Name, Mission San Jose, Racine, San Rafael


St. Albert, Great Bend


St. Joseph, Sparkill, Los Angeles Monastery


Maryknoll, Adrian


St. Joseph, St. Martin de Porres, Columbus, Springfield, Sparkill, Grand Rapids, Kentucky,


Maryknoll: Los Angeles, Summit, Corpus Christi

Puerto Rico

Adrian, Amityville, Columbus, Newburgh



S. Africa




Virgin Islands


Additionally, Maryknoll serves in these locations: Chile, Ecuador, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Nepal, New Guinea, Nicaragua, Samoa, Sudan, Taiwan, and Tanzania.

Dominicans have come on mission to the United States from other lands since the first Spanish friars arrived in the Southeast and Southwest. In the nineteenth century, members of the Order from England, Ireland, Germany. France, and Spain served among and with Americans. At the close of the twentieth century Dominican women and men have continued to come on mission from other nations. The following list shows the nation and Dominican group from which they come, and the location of their provincial or regional headquarters in the United States:

Dominican Group
Canada Dominican Friars of the Canadian Province, Lewiston, Maine

Dominican Rural Missionaries, Abbeville, Louisiana

Presentation Sisters of St. Dominic, Dighton, Massachusetts

Roman Congregation, Iowa City, Iowa


Dominican Sisters of Cabra, New Orleans, Louisiana
Italy Religious Missionaries of St. Dominic, Corpus Christi, Texas
Philippines Dominican Sisters of Manila, Pen Argyle, Pennsylvania
Poland Dominican Sisters of Poland, Justice, Illinois
S. Africa Oakford Dominican Sisters, Mountain View, Texas
Spain Dominican Friars, Province of Spain, San Diego, Texas
Vietnam Dominican Sisters of Ho Nai, Houston. Texas

Dominican Friars of Vietnam, Houston, Texas

From the time that friars invited women to participate in their Dominican mission in Kentucky, collaboration among branches of the Order has remained an important factor, although sometimes disregarded in American Dominican history.

The original organization for collaboration in the United States, the Dominican Leadership Conference, was initiated in 1935 as a conference of Dominican mothers general. Today it sponsors intercommunication among major superiors of American congregations and provinces, holds an annual meeting, and encourages various forms of collaboration by means of the following groups:

  • Parable Conference for Dominican Life and Mission. Staff members provide "Encounter with the Word" retreats; study tours to the lands of Dominic and Central American missions; and preaching teams for parish missions.
  • Project OPUS: A History of the Order of Preachers in the United States. Researchers from the four branches of the Order are engaged together in this undertaking, the first integrated history of the American Dominicans.
  • Las Casas Ministry. Conference members support this ministry among native peoples, especially the Cheyenne and Arapaho, by volunteer service and support.
  • Dominican Charism and Emerging World Order. A committee formed to assess the needs of the global community and prepare for a new world order.
  • U.S. Dominican Collaboration. A committee to promote regional conferences and action in the Dominican Family.

Because preaching the word of God takes priority in the mission of the Order, Dominican men and women are appointed as Promoters of Preaching in their respective branches to collaborate in proclamation of the word. For many years friars and sisters have formed preaching teams to serve parishes throughout the nation. One example of a specialized ministry is the Dominican Missionary Preaching Team which moves with migrant workers to help them form vital base communities, comunidades eclesiales de base, among them.

Representatives of the four provinces of men and several congregations of women form the official Liturgical Commission of the Order of Preachers in the United States, whose studies and conferences have produced significant publications for the Order and the Church.

Collaboration in programs of initial formation of members began in 1976 with nationwide conferences for novices. These have led to the launching of a common novitiate for congregations of Dominican women. Joint sponsorship by leaders of St. Albert and St. Martin de Porres provinces has provided a novitiate and house of studies for men of the two provinces. The California Dominicans sponsor conferences for novices of the women's congregations and Holy Name province.

In 1975 American monasteries of Dominican contemplative women initiated the Conference of the Nuns of the Order of Preachers of the United States, which organizes inter-monastic study weeks and communication and published Dominican Monastic Search to support contemplative life.

Going beyond collaboration to convergence, some Dominican congregations by choice of the members have united to become a single entity in the final decade of the twentieth century. After many years of study and deliberation, members of the three congregations of Fall River, Ossining, and Newburgh in 1995 merged into one that their members named the Dominican Congregation of Hope. Using a similar process, the Spokane Sisters in the same year joined the Sinsinawa congregation. These actions resulted from the traditional Dominican practice of communal decision-making. They were influenced chiefly by two realities. One was the current diminishment of numbers in each congregation. The other, resulting from years of prayer and study together, was the recognition of the way the charism of the Order was profoundly present in each of the congregations. This reality would only be intensified by their union of life and mission. [On Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009, St. Mary of the Springs, Columbus, Ohio, united with six other U.S. congregations of apostolic Dominican Sisters to form one new congregation, the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The other congregations are:

  • Congregation of St. Rose of Lima (Oxford, Michigan)
  • Dominican Sisters, Congregation of St. Mary (New Orleans, Louisiana)
  • Dominican Sisters of Great Bend, Kansas
  • Dominicans of St. Catharine (St. Catharine, Kentucky)
  • Eucharistic Missionaries of St. Dominic (New Orleans, Louisiana)
  • Sisters of St. Dominic of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Akron, Ohio)


Ashley, Benedict M., OP
The Dominicans. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1990.

Culburtson, Diana, OP, ed.
Rose Hawthorne Lathrop: Selected Writings. New York: Paulist Press, 1993.

Mutray, Mary Cecilia, OP
Other Waters. A History of the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh, N.Y. Old Brookville. N.Y.: Brookville Books. 1993.

Parmisano, Fabian Stan, OP
Mission West: The Western Dominican Province, 1850-1966. Oakland, Calif.: Western Dominican Province, 1995.

Petit, Loretta, OP
Friar in the Wilderness: Edward Dominic Fenwick O.P., Chicago: Project OPUS, 1994.

Schwind, Mona. OP
Period Pieces: An Account of the Grand Rapids Dominicans. 1853-1966. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1991.

Mary Nona McGreal, OP